RIHANNA and A$AP ROCKY, Air Canada Centre, March 18. Rating: NNNNN
Five months after playing a secret, stripped down club gig in Toronto, Rihanna brought the pop machine excess to the biggest venue in the city for the first of a two-night stand. Tagging along as opening act was New York fashion rapper A$AP Rocky who released his debut studio album this January. Rocky, who was a Tumblr unknown just two years ago, is not a very good rapper. But he oozes aesthetic and in that sense was a brilliant choice of opener. His new songs, particularly the Skrillex-produced Wild For The Night, hinted at arena ambition - and the crowd reaction to his vigorous leering proved he's got it.
When Rihanna snaked down centre stage in a gold and black oversized Givenchy parka to Phresh Out Tha Runway it didn't matter that she was an hour late. The hour-and-a-half stage show included six insane couture outfits, iconography-heavy visuals, subtle flair from an all-girl dance squad, lots of thigh and a pummeling of hits. Jump, the new Ginuwine-sampling dubstep song, was a highlight, as was the strobe and laser-lit bit featuring her club tunes (We Found Love, Don't Stop The Music, Where Have You Been). This wasn't pop cheese: it was culture mining, fashion-forward, bad mannered, old-Madonna cool.